Vaccinium uliginosum bog bilberry

Alaska Wildflowers | Pink

Vaccinium uliginosum Bog bilberry

Vaccinium uliginosum bog bilberry

Common Names

airelle des marécages
airelle des marais
bleuet de toundra
bleuet de tourbière
bleuet traînard
myrtille de loup
bog bilberry
alpine bilberry
bog blueberry
tundra bilberry

Synonyms

Vaccinium gaultherioides
Vaccinium microphyllum
Vaccinium occidentale
Vaccinium uliginosum subsp. alpinum
Vaccinium uliginosum subsp. gaultherioides
Vaccinium uliginosum subsp. microphyllum
Vaccinium uliginosum subsp. occidentale
Vaccinium uliginosum subsp. pedris
Vaccinium uliginosum subsp. pubescens
Vaccinium uliginosum var. alpinum
Vaccinium uliginosum var. occidentale
Vaccinium uliginosum var. salicinum

Subspecies

none

Genus: Vaccinium
Family: Ericaceae
Order: Ericales
taxonomic heirarchy

Etymology

Scientific Name: Vaccinium uliginosum

The genus name Vaccinium has an interesting and somewhat debated etymology. Traditionally, it was thought to derive from the Latin word vacca, meaning “cow,” though the connection to cows is unclear. Some early botanists, like Johnson and Smith, suggested that Vaccinium might be derived from the Greek Hyacinthos, a term for a dark-flowered plant. However, this has been largely discredited.



As discussed by S.P. Vander Kloet in “On the Etymology of Vaccinium L.,” a more plausible theory proposes that Vaccinium is a Latinized form of the Greek baccinium, derived from bacca, meaning “berry.” This interpretation aligns with Virgil’s usage in his Eclogues, where vaccinia is translated as “black berries.” This theory is further supported by the linguistic shift where the Greek letter “B” (beta) began to be pronounced as “V” in Hellenistic Greek and vulgar Latin, leading to the confusion and interchangeability of the letters in words.

The species epithet uliginosum is derived from the Latin word uliginosus, meaning “full of moisture” or “swampy,” reflecting the plant’s preference for boggy, wetland habitats.

Inuit Names: Kigutangirnait and Naqutit

In Inuit culture, the plant is known by several names that reflect both its appearance and cultural significance:

  • Kigutangirnait: This name means “that which causes the teeth to be removed,” referring to the black spots the berries leave on teeth when eaten.
  • Naqutit: This is a shortened form of kigutangirnait, commonly called “blueberries.”
  • Kigutangirnaqutit: This term specifically refers to the blueberry bush.
  • Nanuq: This term, meaning “polar bear,” is used for unripened blueberries, which are white and bear a resemblance to polar bear fur.

Duration – Growth Habit

Perennial – Shrub/subshrub

Identification and Information

Vaccinium uliginosum, commonly known as bog bilberry or bog blueberry, is a spreading, perennial low-shrub growing from rhizomes, forming extensive colonies, pink flowers, and blueberries. It typically grows 10-30 cm but can grow up to 60 cm tall. The old branches are greyish-red or brownish-red, and the new ones are pale-green or yellowish-green. The leaves are deciduous, alternate, broadly egg-shaped, ovate, or elliptic, 8-14 mm long, with somewhat hairy surfaces and entire margins.

The flowers grow on terminal branches in clusters of four or five, each supported by red peduncles. The flowers are small and urn-shaped, measuring 3-4 mm long, and can be pink, white, or pink with white edges. The corolla has 4-5 lobes, often rolled back at the edges. The sepals are distinct, fused at the base, and measure 1-1.5 mm wide, typically red or deep pink in color. The calyx is glabrous and lacks sessile glands. Each flower contains 10 yellow stamens with anthers that open through terminal pores. The ovary is inferior, with five carpels that are fused together to form a single chamber, and it contains numerous ovules, which are the structures that develop into seeds after fertilization. The fruit is a fleshy, spherical berry that turns blue at maturity, measuring 5-10 mm in diameter and is glabrous with a veinless surface. The persistent calyx remains on the berry, which contains numerous small, black seeds.

The blue berries (with lingonberries in the back)

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Uses

For information only (typically historical) – I take no responsibility for adverse effects from the use of any plant.

Vaccinium uliginosum, commonly known as bog bilberry or bog blueberry, has a wide range of traditional and modern uses.

Indigenous Knowledge and Traditional Uses

North American Ethnobotany Database (NAEDB) Summary:

  • Food: The berries are consumed fresh, dried, or preserved. They are used in jams, pies, puddings, and various desserts.
  • Medicinal: Berries are used to treat diarrhea, as their high tannin content helps harden stools. Leaves are brewed into tea for cold symptoms.
  • Other Uses: Branches are used to remove tough stains, such as gummy blubber.

Flora of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago (FCAA):

  • Inuit: The berries are recommended for diarrhea. The leaves are used to make tea, sometimes mixed with bearberries. Branches are utilized for cleaning purposes.
  • Gwich’in: Berries are enjoyed with sugar in jams, pies, muffins, and it’suh (a dessert made from pounded dry fish). Stems are boiled to make tea for cold symptoms.
  • General: Europeans prefer this fruit to crowberries, but some Eskimo communities believe it can cause dental decay. Berries are used in puddings, often prepared separately from other types of berries to avoid mixing flavors.

Modern Research and Health Benefits

Recent studies have highlighted the numerous health benefits of Vaccinium uliginosum. According to a study published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), supplementation of bog bilberries as part of a healthy diet offers several health benefits:

  • Antioxidant Activity: Bog bilberries possess strong antioxidant properties, which help neutralize free radicals in the body.
  • Anti-inflammatory Effects: The berries have anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce inflammation.
  • Anti-cancer Properties: Bog bilberries can help prevent cancer due to their apoptosis-reducing activity.
  • Cataract Prevention: The antioxidant properties also contribute to preventing cataracts.
  • Sunscreen Component: The berries are used in sunscreen preparations due to their protective effects against UV radiation.

In summary, Vaccinium uliginosum is a valuable food source and offers significant medicinal benefits. Its incorporation into modern diets can help prevent various diseases and enhance overall health.


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Distribution and Habitat

Map data from the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), NatureServe Explorer, and Kew

Vaccinium uliginosum is widely distributed across the northern hemisphere. It can be found throughout Alaska and Canada, in the western United States, and in some northern and northeastern states. It is also prevalent in most of Europe, Russia, and parts of China, Japan, and North and South Korea.

It is found in numerous boreal habitats, including tundra, bogs, meadows, alpine thickets, in upland forests in lowland to alpine zones.

Classification

RankScientific Name (Common Name)
KingdomPlantae (plantes, Planta, Vegetal, plants)
SubkingdomViridiplantae (green plants)
InfrakingdomStreptophyta (land plants)
SuperdivisionEmbryophyta 
DivisionTracheophyta (vascular plants, tracheophytes)
SubdivisionSpermatophytina (spermatophytes, seed plants, phanérogames)
ClassMagnoliopsida 
SuperorderAsteranae 
OrderEricales 
FamilyEricaceae (heaths, éricacées)
GenusVaccinium L. (blueberries, huckleberry, blueberry)
SpeciesVaccinium uliginosum L. (bog bilberry, bog blueberry)

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References and Further Reading

Guidebook

Pratt, V. E. (1989). Field Guide to Alaskan Wildflowers: Commonly Seen Along Highways and Byways (p. 22). Alaskakrafts, inc.

Johnson, D., Kershaw, L., & MacKinnon, A. (2020). Plants of the Western Forest: Alaska to Minnesota Boreal and Aspen Parkland (3rd ed., p. 69). Partners Publishing. ISBN 978-1772130591.

Classification and Taxonomy

Canadensys. (2024). Vaccinium uliginosum. Retrieved June 20, 2024, from https://data.canadensys.net/vascan/taxon/5582?lang=en

ITIS. (2024). Vaccinium uliginosum. Retrieved June 20, 2024, from https://www.itis.gov/servlet/SingleRpt/SingleRpt?search_topic=TSN&search_value=23574#null

USDA NRCS. (2024). Vaccinium uliginosum. Retrieved June 20, 2024, from https://plants.usda.gov/home/plantProfile?symbol=VAUL

Etymology

Vander Kloet, S. P. (1992). On the etymology of Vaccinium L. Rhodora, 94(880), 371-373. https://www.jstor.org/stable/23312939

Canadian Museum of Nature. (2024). Vaccinium uliginosum. Retrieved June 20, 2024, from https://nature.ca/aaflora/data/www/ervaul.htm

Wikipedia contributors. (2024). Vaccinium. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved June 20, 2024, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vaccinium

Uses

Native American Ethnobotany Database. (2024). Vaccinium uliginosum. Retrieved June 20, 2024, from http://naeb.brit.org/uses/species/4088/

Kopystecka A, Kozioł I, Radomska D, Bielawski K, Bielawska A, Wujec M. Vaccinium uliginosum and Vaccinium myrtillus-Two Species-One Used as a Functional Food. Nutrients. 2023 Sep 23

Schofield, J. 2020. Alaska’s Wild Plants: A Guide to Alaska’s Edible Harvest (Revised Edition) (pp. 16-17). Alaska Northwest Books.

Map and Distribution

GBIF. (2024). Vaccinium uliginosum. Retrieved June 20, 2024, from https://www.gbif.org/species/8073364

NatureServe Explorer. (2024). Vaccinium uliginosum. Retrieved June 20, 2024, from https://explorer.natureserve.org/Taxon/ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.130253/Vaccinium_uliginosum

Plants of the World Online. (2024). Vaccinium uliginosum. Retrieved June 20, 2024, from https://powo.science.kew.org/taxon/urn:lsid:ipni.org:names:30184367-2

Description and Information

Flora of North America. (2024). Vaccinium uliginosum. Retrieved June 20, 2024, from http://floranorthamerica.org/Vaccinium_uliginosum

Hultén, E. (1968). Flora of Alaska and Neighboring Territories: A Manual of the Vascular Plants (1st ed.) (pg. 734). Stanford University Press.

University of Alaska Fairbanks, Alaska Center for Conservation Science. (2024). Vaccinium uliginosum. Retrieved June 20, 2024, from https://ecologicalatlas.uaf.edu/index.php/browse-plant-species/atlas-page/?nps_id=2097

E-Flora BC: Electronic Atlas of the Flora of British Columbia. (2024). Vaccinium uliginosum. Retrieved June 20, 2024, from https://linnet.geog.ubc.ca/Atlas/Atlas.aspx?sciname=Vaccinium%20uliginosum&redblue=Both&lifeform=4

Canadian Museum of Nature. (2024). Vaccinium uliginosum. Retrieved June 20, 2024, from https://nature.ca/aaflora/data/www/ervaul.htm

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